Dog's Nails

A Beginner Guide to Maintaining Your Dog’s Nails

Dogs, just like humans, need regular grooming to maintain their health and comfort. One often-overlooked aspect of canine grooming is nail trimming. Many dog owners, particularly those new to the responsibility, are either unaware of the need or feel apprehensive about tackling the task themselves. But understanding the whys and hows of nail trimming can make the process easier and more effective for both you and your canine companion. 

Some dogs may spend more time roaming outdoors – energetic breeds such as German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers may wear down their nails naturally on rough ground. However, many smaller toy breeds such as Cavoodles or Shih Tzus may require regular nail trimming as they don’t get out as often. 

The Significance of Regular Nail Maintenance

Every pet owner needs to understand that nail care isn’t merely about aesthetics. Long nails can cause a variety of problems, both immediately and in the long term.

Posture and Movement Complications

Dogs, when walking or standing, should have their nails just above the ground. Overly long nails touch the ground, exerting pressure back into the nail bed. This creates discomfort and can alter your dog’s posture and gait. Over time, these changes in movement can lead to skeletal damage and arthritis.

Infections and Injuries

Long nails, especially those that are not regularly inspected, can become split or torn, leading to pain and potential infection. Nails that grow too long can also curl around and grow into the pad of the foot, a painful and infection-prone condition.

Discomfort and Pain

Imagine walking around with a small stone in your shoe. That’s how it might feel for a dog with long nails every time they walk or run. This discomfort can lead to reluctance in engaging in physical activity, which can subsequently impact their overall health.

Risk of Injury and Damage

For households, especially those with wooden floors, long dog nails can result in scratches on surfaces. They can also become caught in fabrics, risking injury for the dog and damage to household items.

Now that the importance of regular nail maintenance has been established, let’s delve into the specifics of how to cut a dog’s nails.

Dog's Nails

How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails

The process of trimming a dog’s nails can seem daunting, especially without clear guidance. However, with the right knowledge and patience, it can become a routine aspect of your pet care that you tackle with confidence.


Before you even begin the trimming process, it’s essential to have the right tools and a calm environment. The most commonly used tools for nail trimming are guillotine clippers, scissor-like clippers, and grinders. Each has its advantages, but no matter which you choose, ensure it’s sharp and clean. A dull clipper can crush the nail, causing discomfort or even pain.

It’s also essential to have styptic powder or cornstarch on hand. This can quickly stop bleeding if you accidentally cut into the quick, which is the blood vessel inside the nail.

Find a quiet spot in your home where both you and your dog can relax. If your dog is unfamiliar with nail trimming, consider doing a few practice runs without actually cutting the nails to get them used to the sensation.

Handling the Paw

Gently hold your dog’s paw in your hand, separating the toes with your fingers. This will give you a clear view of each nail. If your dog has furry paws, you may need to trim the hair back first to see the nails clearly.

Identifying the Quick

For dogs with clear or white nails, the quick is the pinkish area within the nail. You’ll want to avoid cutting into this as it’s sensitive and will bleed if nicked. For dogs with dark nails, the task is trickier. You’ll need to make small cuts, looking for a dark dot in the centre of the nail. This indicates you’re getting close to the quick.

Trimming the Nail

Using your chosen tool, make a confident cut across the nail, avoiding the quick. It’s better to make several smaller cuts than one large one, especially if you’re unsure of where the quick is. If using a grinder, apply it to the nail in short bursts to avoid generating too much heat, which can be uncomfortable for your dog.


Once you’ve trimmed all the nails, you can give the edges a slight file if you want them to be smooth, especially if you’ve used guillotine or scissor-like clippers. This will prevent your dog from scratching itself or others. Offer your dog a treat and lots of praise after the trimming session. This positive reinforcement will help associate nail trimming with good things, making future sessions easier.

Tips and Precautions

  • Stay Calm: Dogs can pick up on your emotions. If you’re anxious or nervous, your dog will sense it. Breathe deeply, speak in a calm voice, and take breaks if needed.
  • Get Help: If your dog is particularly squirmy or anxious, consider having a second person to help hold the dog still and comfort them.
  • Know When to Stop: If you accidentally cut the quick and it bleeds, remain calm. Apply styptic powder or cornstarch to stop the bleeding. If it continues to bleed after several minutes, consult a veterinarian.
  • Regular Maintenance: Regular nail trimming makes the quick recede over time. So, the more frequently you trim, the shorter you can keep the nails without harming your dog.

While nail trimming may seem intimidating at first, with practice and patience, it can become a simple task in your pet care routine. Remember, the key is to create a positive experience for your dog. With the right tools, environment, and approach, you can ensure your dog’s nails are well-maintained and comfortable.